The Vinyl “Revolution” – The New Archivists
The Indie Record Label has moved from simple home based record labels to the keepers of the faith and the bearers of music’s legacies.
By Joseph Timmons: IndiePulse Music Magazine
Part 1 – The New Wax Wizards: Royal Mint Records – Finland
Helsinki, The capital of Finland is said to be “a compact city easily explored on foot”. Design, architecture, culture and shopping are all an exploration, and the coastline with numerous islands sprinkled off it make certain there’s no shortage of natural presence. Needless to say, there’s something going on in Helsinki every day of the year. The “Finns” might seem a bit quiet and reserved at first, but in this cultural landmark of society one would discover a whole new dimension to the people. There is an amazing night life and music is a large part of it, in central Helsinki is where it’s most evident.
From Classical Theatres and Rock Clubs to Cocktail Lounges, there’s enough supply in night-time Helsinki to cater for all preferences. The people of Finland are a “forward thinking people”, there is a history of greatness, and that desire is strong in the culture, so it is no surprise that this is our first stop in our article Series, as one of “The Old Countries” it is one of the cradles of civilization and a deep well of artists.
Royal Mint Records was founded in Helsinki, the Capital of Finland in the spring of 2014. By their site, the say they are a label that specializes in “Short Run Vinyl and Bespoke Musical Artefacts”, short run vinyl editions.
Royal Mint Records showcases great artists and makes exclusive limited editions of their releases. They produce variable types, the traditional style 7” 45rpm, 12” 33 1/3, 10”, but also produce custom laths, which are one at a lime special cuts, some of their releases are all hand produced, so no 2 are the same on a production scale, Royal Mint is not a large “Clearing House” but is a very quality oriented “Music Art House”
In fact, they produce some very, very interesting selections, we found that they produced a record that was, in fact, a Jigsaw Puzzle –
From Guinness World Records.com
“In September 2016, UK newcomers Sugar Coat released a 7-inch vinyl version of “Me Instead” as a playable jigsaw, showing a crowded supermarket scene. It was one of a set of 35 designs released by the London-based trio to mark the release of their debut single; other one-off pressings included mirror and faux-fur designs, while another disc was sprinkled with coal dust from South Yorkshire’s Orgreave mines, in tribute to those involved in the “Battle of Orgreave” riots on 18 June 1984. The jigsaw and the 34 other discs were the brainchild of Cameron Allen from Finland’s Royal Mint Records. Sugar Coat, who is reported to have met in A&E at a hospital in Lewisham, consists of Sugar Quinn, Pylon King and Billy Brentford Reeves.”
We had an opportunity to contact and interview Cameron Allen of Royal Mint Records about the label, what they do and about their philosophy about being involved with the Indie Record Label Scene. As this is the 1st of a 4 part series, titled The Vinyl “Revolution” – The New Archivists, we hope that the innovation towards the production of today’s New Vinyl shows how the desire to own parts of music history has become so alluring and develops into a life’s passion.
Interview with Cameron Allen of Royal Mint Records
IPM: Cameron, just to get an idea about your point of view, what inspires you about music, why did you become a part of the Record Label Scene? And tell us more about Royal Mint Records.
Well RMRs was really about producing vinyl in the beginning. I thought I would put my own music on vinyl but didn’t think seriously about the label as I knew they were dead at least in commercial terms and most acts don’t need one. I had about 10 years off music where I pretty much didn’t listen to it and I certainly didn’t make any. I was kind of disgruntled and struggled with the ways of the music ‘industry’.
I moved to Finland from London in 2012 and in 2014 established the business after a bit of reflection about what I could do with myself. I wanted to find this illusive career we often seek where we can pay the bills and actually enjoy what we do. It was very much a lifestyle decision but you need to buy food too. I pay the bills and I love what I do, it is really a part of my identity now and it was hard work (cutting records is incredibly difficult to master), continues to be so but it is worth it. I’d like to work with more grateful people but it isn’t a trait in abundance here.
The label has been a natural progression from there. I mean I cut so much music to wax, literally every day of the week (probably over 25000 now since we started) so I get to hear so much new and emerging stuff long before it is released. Quite often I hear stuff that is really great and luckily we are in a position now to offer something to people we want to work with. We released over 60 records on vinyl in 2017 – from full label acts to vinyl collaborations with artists and labels. The traditional models are dead and unfortunately much of the industry doesn’t know that or are obsessed with streaming and YouTube numbers thinking they have to embrace that as the future.
Streaming is the disposable budget version of fan ship, the takeaway fast food. I subscribe to Spotify and love an occasional Whopper but I wouldn’t serve one for Christmas dinner. I think there will always be a place for labels that release records/cassettes but ones limited to digital, I cannot see how they can stick around long term. There is a lot of terrible popular music and unfortunately it follows trends so you can get an awful lot of fodder. I like to think we work with acts on the glimmering fringes that do something worth adding into the mix instead of just adding meaningless noise.
IPM: Tell us about the artists you prefer to work with, and some of the thoughts behind what you create.
Attitude is everything to me and people need to have spark there has to be something that makes me go oh wow yeah fuck! I LOVE audacious people. If you are apathetic and worry about what people think of what you do RMR is not for you. Outward confidence is actively discouraged in Finland and I do not see how that reconciles well against making art and wanting people to see/hear it.
I recognize there is a line between confidence and arrogance but I am too busy working with people who don’t give a fuck about where that line is to care. We all want to be liked and we want our work to be recognized but those things should NEVER affect your honesty as an artist. You’re only cheating yourself out of seeing your own potential. You’re an artist, be an artist. You can (and must) be respectful too of course. You can be confident without being an asshole. But if someone mistakes confidence for arrogance that’s their problem and we’ll move on. The way I see it is if people don’t like what you do they are not your audience the world will continue to spin anyway.
My creative drive – it just happens, I just mull over ideas in my head or I let materials drive me. I am shifting right now to be more art focused. It gets me out of bed and makes me feel energized. There is also a relentless need to be in the conversation all the time when you run a business/label like mine. Keeping that up through all the marketing channels and networking is tiring. People may think I am some kind of ego maniac with the amount of social media work we do but it is not the case.
Consistently we see a direct correlation between our activity levels and the performance of the business/label financially. As much as I love this it is not a hobby and it has to be profitable so you have to work at it. I would rather be in the studio making a record that can walk your dog but I can only do that if my electricity is on.
IPM: You had said your label produces more “Hi-Fi Quality Records” and is a “Bespoke Musical Artefacts”, please explain.
Yes….. it is a bit of a bee in my bonnet as lathe cuts get a bad rap and I do not always think this is warranted. Pressed records are factory made copies of lathe cuts. Every record effectively starts its life as a lathe cut there is no exception to this. Of course there are terrible sounding mono lathe cuts but I believe they have their place too, as wonderful musical artifacts and cool collectibles. This isn’t snobbery from me let me be clear about that. We produce a lot of records and they get broadcast on radio and TV as well as distributed internationally into stores so the sound quality is important for the type of vinyl we produce. Each cut is effectively an original master disc cut with a diamond by a guy who 99 percent of the time knows what he is doing.
IPM: Looking at what you have on your web site, there are pressings that range from rather “normal” to the fantastic, “Square Records, Clear and Colored, Lath Cuts that for concentric circles on see through material, so many to mention, and all have a unique artistic quality, where some labels just “Press Records” you take it to the next level, one has to ask “Why”?
That’s easy; I am as curious as anyone interested in this stuff what we can do. We have an unusual combination of mediums to work with so we can do something cool. I really enjoy this, it is amazing fun. I have brought a niche audio skill together with artistic and technical abilities so I can cross between them all. I am experimenter and I have no fear of failure with all this. I do NOT want to snap a diamond but we have had all sorts of mishaps! I have done so much stuff in the studio in the last few years that we haven’t shared yet I feel like we can really say something artistically relevant, transcend the viewpoint at which people see what we do as vinyl records that are ‘arty’ and actually create works that might just be considered art…..
In the end how they are viewed isn’t the point. I enjoy the process; the result and perception are out of my control.
IPM: Not to sound above it all, but do you see your label as creating art, preserving music and , as the title of our series suggests, do you feel you are Archiving the talents of today for tomorrow?
Yes for sure. What I do is art. The music is art the playing and composition is artistry. I absolutely love cover art and have seen some incredible works and designs by very talented people. Packaging can be beautiful to look at and feel. I have had some truly exceptional recordings where you almost cannot believe the quality of the engineering, mixing and mastering. There is an awful lot of ability that goes into making a record and all of that is preserved when we make a record. A record isn’t finished until it is on vinyl. Well, CD and cassette count too J We are absolutely a little but important part of the creation and archival process.
IPM: we would assume that “Short Run” has a specific quantity, give us some examples, if you would?
Anything from half a copy to as many as you can imagine. There is a threshold at which we recommend we press a record of course as it makes more financial sense.
IPM: since much of your work is purely custom design, it must be a nightmare in regards to quality control, does this cause issues with deadlines?
Actually no. I produce a lot of standard issues for artists and labels and then the custom work is really as I please. 12” can be technically challenging because I am trying to achieve a finished record that is quite like a regular record to hold. I can fill a record with liquid or anything (we have done many of these types of things) but I do not want a half inch thick record. However, I love it when someone does that I saw the Aliens soundtrack records a few years back and damn they were amazing, it is just an artistic choice for me. There are a few folks in the states doing things either via pressing, custom making and using resins and they are all wonderful in their own unique ways or I love them all.
IPM: what is the average cost to produce some of your creations?
As with all handmade things time is the biggest factor. However, I have a workflow now where I can do stuff really quick once the idea is in my head. I probably do not charge enough for the artwork but it seems almost unfair to ask people pay a premium for stuff I would do for free in my time off because I love it. I do this on my days off too! But as I am more recognized as an artist now my fees aren’t so much higher but the works are getting more collectible and, I guess, more expensive now. I should probably keep some in a vault for my daughter just in case.
IPM: What were some of your most exciting projects, and what are you working on now?
I did a commission series of 35 unique 7” records for a UK band called Sugar Coat a couple of years ago now. It was the first time I let myself go and owned the project as an artist. Paul from the band was a fan of my work and gave me full license and really that was a turning point in how I identified with my work. I was sending Paul images of the work as I made them. One morning I sent him the jigsaw puzzle vinyl and the next day it was in the NME in the UK getting tweeted to a million people.
I had always secretly wanted to be in the NME as a musician but I guess artist was how it ended up. I made records out of deer hide, left over Russian encyclopedias, ashes from a Welsh mine and all sorts of things. They sold out the series in half an hour for prices much higher that I could have ever imagined. I owe Paul a beer. Previous to that I made a series of 25 12” LP with wool in them. It sold out so fast and was cool because it was a label release by an unknown band. The album was called Scandinavian Wool (by Pollen) so wool seemed a no brainer to me. It ended up getting coverage in a lot of places and I think is my most beautiful looking work. It really does look cool.
IPM: Have to ask – the 7” you did with Sugar Coat, What, and How, just the idea is amazing enough, but to actually make it successfully, how did you do this?
(Ha Ha), Yeah this is the ongoing design issue – how do we push the creative boundaries out further and still achieve an essential goal – playability? I studied design in university alongside Psychology and interaction design was a particular interest to me. I want to create an experience for people also not just a pretty record to look at. Going back to my earlier point also, we need to be in the conversation and to do that it helps to stand out.
Actually the jigsaw was a funny one; I saw the puzzle in a charity store and wondered if it were possible to make into a record. Is set it aside to collect and then buy and when I came back a little girl had tipped it all over the floor. My wife nicely asked her to put it back together and yeah actually getting it together was pretty easy though I wasn’t sure if it would play. It does and it sounds great. I have it framed in my studio. A collector in Japan basically offered me a blank check for it but I kept it. It was in the print edition of the 2018 Guinness Book of World Records and that was pretty cool!
I am working no more interactive stuff and some installation pieces. Watch this space.
IPM: Where do most of your customers come from, what countries, and what is the farthest you have sent an album.
Everywhere. I send records all over the world continuously.
IPM: In closing, how would you like your work, and the work of Royal Mint Records to be thought of and remembered?
Gosh. I try to live in the moment. Nothing is more exciting artistically than the spark of an idea and bringing it together. Yeah it is great that there is a picture of the jigsaw vinyl in the Guinness book but that’s not why I made it. I think the things that I value about what I do are more about what I might try and pass to my daughter, to enjoy what you do and to be brave about what you do, to be immersed in the moments and fully enjoy them even if they are challenging. It is also why I do a lot of stuff I do not publicly put out. I have a really cool private collection of things I have made that are all representative of the moments they were created in. It is very rewarding to make stuff without an end game and just follow your flow. As far as the outsider perspective? Who knows really though the feedback we get is nice. We all want to be liked and for our work to be recognized but I feel like if you’re concerned about your legacy you’re missing the point.
Royal Mint Records, like many labels around the world, started as a labor of love, but it appears, only by staying that way, did its founder get to fulfill a dream, and without trying to “Out Do” anyone, did Royal Mint become a huge label in the Indie Scene in Europe and abroad, making its way here to the USA. We will report more on Royal Mint as their personal story grows.
Check out Royal Mint for Yourself at the following Online Resource Links.